Montpellier led the charge after round six – condemning Brive to a sixth straight loss. But Lyon’s narrow victory over Racing continued their pursuit with Montpellier at the top of the table. The Top 14 round seven fixtures were an opportunity for teams to finish positively, ahead of the opening rounds of the European competitions positively.
Here’s all you need to know from round seven:
Stade Francais 31-20 Montpellier
Montpellier’s away form could prove their downfall this season. They don’t quite have the same clinical game as they do at home. Again it was evident at Stade Francais on Saturday. Their lacklustre start gave Stade the opening to take the lead. Julien Arias capitalised on the space Nemani Nadolo had left on his outside shoulder setting up Waisea Nayacalevu for the first score. Despite his ruthless attack, Montpellier’s Nadolo hasn’t always been able to offer as much in defence.
Roles were reversed in a strong first half for Stade. The home side looked more like a team at the top rather than teetering towards the bottom. But Stade had certainly done their homework and Nayacalevu’s second try certainly mirrored that. A lack of communication in defence and basic errors were Montpellier’s downfall and having succumbed to a seventeen point deficit, only then began to slowly put passages together. Nadolo made brief amends with a score in the second half, adding to Bismarck du Plessis’s try but it was all too little too late. Stade’s Tony Ensor saw to that with a score that denied Montpellier a losing bonus point.
Stade’s blueprint for victory could be the turning point in their season. With a break in fixtures for the European competitions, it should provide the start of a bit of form for the Paris side. Montpellier will rue their poor start and with it fail to cling on to top spot. That’s now two losses in three ahead of the European campaign.
Bordeaux 30-27 Toulon
Bordeaux have shown they are a side that can compete with the best. Having dispatched Clermont in round one, Montpellier in round five, Toulon became the latest scalp in round seven. It was also the hosts’ third straight victory.
Bordeaux matched Toulon pound for pound in a very physical first half. The score line could have been even greater had Simon Hickey’s missed kicks landed. However, the former New Zealand U20’s man seemed to effortlessly set the platform for his side to get over the advantage line. Importantly, his combination with Les Bleus scrum half Baptiste Serin continues to mould into an ever-threatening partnership and together, control games intelligently.
— France Bleu Gironde (@Bleu_Gironde) October 8, 2017
Josua Tuisova and Juandre Kruger opened up a sizeable lead for Toulon, but the southern French side failed to capitalise on their advantage. Bordeaux winger Jean-Baptiste Dubie seemed to be everywhere – his support play meant he was on hand to touch down twice for his side. Bordeaux have a strong capable side, but consistency will be key. Their powerful pack and strong ball players have already shown they are a match for anyone on any given day. Hickey staying fit is crucial and having moved into third place, Bordeaux will need him to continue his fine form going into the Challenge Cup.
Brive 27-22 Castres
Brive’s performance against Castres was a huge contrast to their position in the table. Having gone six games without a victory, Brive put in a strong performance to get off the mark. They offered greater composure than their opponents, also struggling at the foot of the table, to silence some of the doubters and gain ground.
Even against Montpellier in round six, Brive looked bright in spells and played some exciting rugby. Against Castres, it was pragmatic – taking opportunities as they arose as well as not losing confidence after going down to an early Julien Dumora try. Samuel Marques kept Brive in touch with the boot before a penalty try gave the hosts the lead. It was a situation that Brive hadn’t found themselves in too often this season but they continued to push Castres. Their approach paid dividends, especially with Castres’ ill-discipline handing over ball time and time again.
When Brive build phases, they enforce errors, and the strength of Poutasi Laufatu was no match for the Castres defence from close range. The try epitomised Brive’s performance – accumulating at every opportunity.
However, Brive began to falter in the second half, giving Castres opportunities to reduce the arrears with two tries. A flurry of substitutions disrupted the flow of the game somewhat and the Brive defence began to look a little more like the defence of the opening six rounds.
Despite heads going down Brive will be hugely pleased to register their first win and close the gap on Agen.
Oyonnax 16-19 Pau
Oyonnax have put in some good performances so far this season and were on track to narrowly defeat Pau. It was the away side’s quality that told in the end. It was difficult to separate the two sides for the majority – both had good passages of play but were then let down by giving away penalties. Oyonnax’s Ben Botica and Pau’s Tom Taylor duly obliged from the tee, but frustrating from a coach’s point of view in the way the penalty count mounted.
Both sets of forwards were worked hard, primarily as a means of getting over the advantage line. Defensively, Oyonnax kept Pau out close to the full eighty minutes. A period of sustained pressure on the try line couldn’t stop the visitors stealing the victory in the dying stages.
From both sides’ performances in the league to date, success in Europe could be a step too far. Oyonnax are hovering above Brive and Agen and Pau aren’t too far above them. The level of rugby in this year’s European competitions could see them falling by the wayside where full focus will turn to their domestic campaigns.
Agen 6-25 Lyon
Agen were no match for a Lyon side that went into round seven with the prospect of overtaking Montpellier into top spot. The visitors did just that, with a one-sided performance against an Agen side now only separated by a point over bottom side Brive.
Lyon are a side going from strength to strength and their impressive defensive display complimented an attack that doesn’t look like letting up. However, Lyon will be disappointed not to have secured a bonus point with a fourth try, to further increase the gap at the top.
Lyon (7e journée) : Ça tourne fort avant le déplacement à Agen – L'Équipe.fr https://t.co/cITv1Hg0wA
— #rugbyLOU (@RugbyLOU_) October 6, 2017
A brand of free flowing rugby has really come to the fore for Lyon this season. It’s beginning to having a profound effect on their opponents. Agen went down to two great attacking tries through Thibaut Regard and Jean-Marcellin Buttin. The level of opposition may have contributed, but it highlights the level at which Lyon are this season.
Experience in Lyon Side is Their Advantage in 2017/18
In Freddie Michalak, experience and guile gives his side go forward and a reliable boot to keep the scoreboard ticking. In the forwards, the back row of Julien Puricelli, Liam Gill and Carl Fearns combine as powerful ball carriers. Lyon’s team cohesion, as was evident at Agen, is a big factor in their success. Even with Lyon’s third try – a powerful Richard Choirat pick and go from close range – every player is adept at gaining ground and pressing over the advantage line.
A three point cushion over Montpellier in second place will be a huge confidence boost for Lyon ahead of their clash with Cardiff Blues. Agen continue to fall perilously close to the bottom of the league – their win over Racing seems a distant memory.
La Rochelle 16-9 Racing 92
Another team where the level of expectation hasn’t come to fruition is Racing. A poor start to the season has already put them in a position where they’re playing catch up. With it, three losses on the bounce isn’t something normally associated with a Racing side of this quality.
Neither side were able to get out of third gear at the weekend and the score line reflected that. With a game as error-strewn as it was, building phases and gaining momentum was hard to come by. Vincent Rattez scored the game’s only try, but only after a Racing error in the process. Chances for both teams were few and far between and a losing bonus point for Racing was the only consolation.
Last week’s defeat at Toulon took its toll on La Rochelle. Composure was lacking and confidence looked strained. Fortunately Alexis Bales was on hand for the hosts to stretch out the lead as much as it was. Maxime Machenaud on target for Racing, but he struggled to find any foothold in the game we’re so accustomed to seeing.
Racing seem comfortable occupying mid table while La Rochelle move into fourth level with Bordeaux in fifth. Both sides head into the Champions Cup in need of good performances.
Toulouse 28-18 Clermont
Last year’s champions Clermont have failed to click this season. Three wins from seven isn’t an ideal situation to be in ahead of their Champions Cup opener. Thanks to a bullish Toulouse side chasing down Montpellier and Lyon, Clermont were handed a lesson in game management.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) October 9, 2017
In scrum half Antoine Dupont, Toulouse have arguably the finest in the league. By touching down twice, the French international underlined his threat at the breakdown and in the loose. Ultimately throwing down a marker for the November internationals.
Toulouse’s back line is certainly one of the sharpest in the league – speed, strength and clinically astute. The win over Clermont puts them level with Montpellier and it’s difficult to see them slipping after their fourth win on the bounce. A bonus point win would have secured second, but any win against a strong Clermont side would suffice.
A Morgan Parra try and a late score for David Strettle weren’t enough for a losing bonus point for Clermont. With the strength of their squad, it’s surprising why they have fallen to the bottom half of the table. But they were made to look average by Toulouse, particularly in how they opened up their defensive line. Other teams will surely take note.
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) October 8, 2017
All the likely teams expected to occupy the top spots have proved disappointing so far. The likes of Toulon, Racing and Clermont have struggled to gain any momentum. Lyon have taken their opportunities and sitting top of the league, ahead of the European break has been fully deserved.
It will be interesting to see how teams’ form is impacted after the opening two rounds of the Challenge Cup and Champions Cup.
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